Aruba is not your typical lush Caribbean island. Sure, the impeccable landscaping in the hotel areas certainly has a tropical air to it, but as soon as you venture into the “real” Aruba, you’ll encounter dry desert terrain where the vegetation mostly consists of scraggly, wind-shaped trees (like the divi divi or the kwihi), prickly bushes (like the hubada), different varieties of cactai (including the impressive towering candlestick variety), and lots and lots of aloe.
Growing up in Pennsylvania farm country, aloe was the exotic plant sitting on our backporch that my 5 siblings and I would resort to when we got a cut of some kind. In fact, we almost looked forward to a cut just so we had an excuse to break off one of the leaf tips and rub the magical salve onto the wound. Who knew that many years later I would be living on an island where aloe grows wild all over the place?
Some aloe vera growing wild in my friend's yard.
Given that aloe grows so well in Aruba’s arid climate, the cultivation of aloe was one of the island’s earliest economic pursuits. Initially, aloe was cultivated for its latex—that nasty-smelling, yellow sap that seeps out of a cut aloe leaf—which contains aloin, a natural laxative. The latex was processed into an aloin resin and sent to the U.S. and Europe to the relief of constipated individuals. In fact, Aruba became one of the biggest exporters of aloe in the world.
Eventually, synthetic aloin was discovered, reducing the demand for natural aloin. Plus, oil refining and tourism became important economic forces and lured the farmers out of their fields with the promise of less back-breaking work, so that many aloe fields were simply abandoned. But, Aruba Aloe, a company founded in 1890 (the oldest aloe company in the world!), weathered these challenges and kept working its fields, planted in the area of Hato. That dedication soon paid off. Although the curative properties of aloe gel had been known for centuries, Aruba Aloe pioneered the use of this ultra-nourishing gel in cosmetic products, launching its first aloe product line in 1968, years before the practice was adopted by other companies in the late ’70s. Consequently, Aruba Aloe put Aruba back on the aloe map. Today, the company manufactures several different lines of products at its state-of-the-art facility and sells these products both locally and worldwide.
Aloe fields forever at Aruba Aloe.
First Reason to Love Aruba Aloe:
TRADITION. These guys are the safekeepers of a genuine island tradition. They even hand-harvest and hand-cut the aloe, just like in the old days. Go to their factory facility in Hato, and you might even see a few harvesters picking the aloe from the 160-year-old fields surrounding the facility. Make sure to head inside for a museum and factory tour!
Second Reason to Love Aruba Aloe:
Aruba Aloe’s products are genuine “Made in Aruba” products, with the aloe both grown and processed here. There are a few other products that can make this same claim, but, at least in my opinion, Aruba Aloe’s products are pretty much the gold standard of “Made in Aruba.” Which is why they make THE BEST souvenirs for family and friends. My suggestion? Visit one of the more than 15 Aruba Aloe stores on the island and get all your souvenirs in one go!
Some of my favorite Aruba Aloe products.
Third Reason to Love Aruba Aloe:
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Aruba Aloe products are the BOMB! Honestly. Over the years, I have fallen in love with one product after another. First it was their Aftersun Gel, which I loved because it soaks right into the skin, so there’s no greasy afterfeel. Last year, I fell in love with Alhydran, which is Aruba Aloe’s medical-grade after-care cream for serious skin issues. And this year, after many years (and many florins) of searching for a sunscreen that wouldn’t sting the sensitive skin of my face, I discovered that Aruba Aloe’s Very Water Resistant SPF 30 Sunscreen (which is not even specifically intended for the face) was the sunscreen I was looking for all along.
Aruba Aloe recently came out with its own soap brand, called Bon Jabon. Not only do I love the name of the brand (bon jabon, pronounced “bone-ha-bone,” means “good soap” in Papiamento), I absolutely looooove the soaps. When I smell the Fruity Soaps (my favorite is the mango), I can’t help but close my eyes and smile blissfully. The green tea & cucumber is also divine.
The Bon Jabon factory is located on Main Street in downtown Oranjestad. The building that houses the factory also houses a “regular” Aruba Aloe store and a dedicated Bon Jabon store. Here’s what I suggest: Hop on the charming trolley that runs along the Main Street and take it down to the Aruba Aloe store (across from Bon Bini Bazaar). Take some time to sample and enjoy the wide array of products. Don’t forget to stock up on sunscreen, aftersun gel, and perhaps a few souvenirs. Then pop on over next door to the new Bon Jabon store. Here, it’s all about the experience. Visitors are invited to try the different soaps and sugar scrubs (which come in coffee, lavender, and bergamot) at two in-store sinks or enjoy a hand bath in a bowl of water filled with bath salts. I tried the bergamot sugar scrub, and my hands never felt smoother. Oh, Aruba Aloe, how I love thee!
This article was originally published on the Aruba Like a Local Blog